Continued on next post
Monday, April 22, 2013
As a flight attendant for thirteen years with two companies, I learned a lot about traveling with babies by just watching what worked and what didn't with passengers, but the real lesson was ahead of me. Now I'm usually flying alone with my own three between Europe, where I now live, and California, where I'm originally from about every six months. We've also taken quite a few flights within Europe, the Middle East and domestic flights in the States. I've actually lost count of how many, and now we can claim we’ve done stand-by, full fare, low cost, charter, etc.
Some of this information might seem obvious to you, especially if you've flown a few times both with or without your children. Some reading this have never been on a plane themselves, or it's been long time ago, so please keep this in mind.
Also, to be clear, this article is not a legal document and can't be used as proof of any of the laws or rules I refer to throughout. Check the FAA websites or other relevant agencies to confirm any statements I make. I try to provide links when I can. Be aware, also, that airlines often have their own policies which might be stricter than their own governments' laws. Most of the employees you encounter do not have the power to change or make exceptions to any rule. They simply must follow them, even in cases where logic or safety is questionable. Now that I've covered my backside...
Flying with babies? For me, it's definitely a means to an end. I loved my job. I love traveling, but actually flying in the plane with my little ones, I just try to get through it as smoothly as possible. If it helps, calculate how much of your total trip will actually be spent on the plane. A mom flying halfway around the world wrote me to tell me that thought helped. Even for a short visit, the actual proportion of the time spent in the airplane and airports will be short.
One of the worst mistakes to make is to assume that the last time you flew, everything went great so it will again. Also, how much your little one(s) have flown has little or no impact on how it will go. Not too many kids have flown as much as mine have, and I've stopped predicting whether they'll have horns or halos during the flight, while children who have never been on a plane can be complete angels. It's variable. The purpose here is to keep make it as easy as possible. I usually expect that everything will go wrong. If any mishaps occur, well, stuff happens. That's a given. If everything goes smoothly, I quietly celebrate my victory...
I have tried to organize this article in sections so that parents can skip over and get to the parts that are relevant. For example, if you already have your tickets booked, you can pass over all the sections on buying tickets. It can also be a bit much reading all this in one sitting so parents have told me that they find it helpful to bookmark or copy it, coming back to the sections they need as they come up.
If you are at the stage of considering a journey, look into what documents you need for your child as soon as you can organize it. Obviously it's impossible to cover this subject thoroughly, but make sure you have what you need. There are too many horror stories of families being turned away at the airport, if not prevented from booking in the first place.
For international travel, your child probably needs a passport. There only very few exceptions like using E.U. national ID's to travel the European Union. Passports are required by more and more countries, especially post 9/11. There is a new U.S passport card but it is only good within a specific area and only for land and water ports of entry, not for air travel. The system of putting children in their parents' passports is less and less common and now every member of the family has to have his or her own. Because of the worldwide security situation, many countries which used to let nationals of neighboring countries visit without, are now requiring passports.
For domestic U.S. travel, if a child is traveling with a parent, they don't have to have any kind of identification. No proof even that the adults are the parents is necessary. Some airlines will require a birth certificate or other ID to prove that the child is under age 2. This is due to the FAA regulation that lap babies cannot have had their 2nd birthday. Most won't ask if the child is obviously under that age but some airlines require if of all lap babies. Check your airlines' website to be sure.
A big stumbling block to getting a baby's first passport can be the photo. Taking children's pictures is not always easy in the best of circumstances and getting a little one to cooperate within the requirements of an official document, even less so. Many insist on pure-white backgrounds. For a U.S. passport, both ears must show and the eyes must be open. A helpful trick to share with the photographer or if you're doing it yourself is to put a small baby in a bouncy seat covered with a white sheet. There can also be issues with photo sizes. Get this information clear and don't risk your file being refused or delayed for some petty problem with the photo that could have easily been adhered to if you had known ahead of time.
As a reminder, U.S.citizens with other nationalities cannot enter the country on any other passport with no exceptions for children. If living internationally, it may be easier to obtain your child's other passport, but this will not be accepted by U.S. immigration. If you are American and are reading this in anticipation of an international adoption, your agency will give you the information you need, but the child can enter the U.S. on his or her original passport, as long as his American nationality has not gone through yet.
If you or your children are eligible for the nationality of the country you're visiting, check the requirements. Some have the same rule as the U.S. does, others are less strict.
I take our passports with us, even when visiting a third country. I have had to travel for family emergencies and I want to be able to head to the nearest airport, and not have to return to France to pick up my U.S. passports. This is an extra precaution.
I also want to recommend that anyone with loved ones beyond their borders keep a valid passport at all times just in case of the unforeseen, even if a journey is not planned in the near future and even if they wont be living there long.
It's also a good idea to regularly check passports for expiration dates. Remember that some countries require not just a valid passport but one that is for the next 3 or 6 months.
Someone reminded me to bring the medical records. This is a great idea but I have to confess, this is a case of do what I say, and not what I actually don't do. My kids' French health records are large and bulky--a feeble excuse I'll admit! This is especially important if there could be language issues or if your child has any specific health concerns.
If you are not flying with the other parent, you might need to have a permission letter. With a U.S. passport, the other parent signs the passport documents, this gives the other parent permission to travel alone with the child but the letter might be required at your destination, or even transit country so check. This is especially important if you are visiting several countries, for example on a cruise or tour.
Do not just write up a letter for the sake of it. Confirm that a letter from the other parent is required and exactly how they want it written, which language, what it should say, if it needs to be notarized, etc. Canada and Chile, for example, have instructions on their tourist and official sites, including instructions for those with sole custody.
If you are flying with someone else's children, even if related to you, please make sure you have both power of attorney (in case of emergencies) and a permission letter from the parents. Find out if any of these letters need to be notarized and/or have a time limits.
When you book your flight, a few tips can make the trip easier.
Flying off season is not always possible, but booking a few days forward or back can be dramatically different in price and how full the flight is. I once saved a lot but simply leaving on the earlier flight. Look at a few flights, if your itinerary is flexible, with the agent or on the net. This can take a little time, but it might be worth punching a few extra buttons to have a bit more peace in the air.
I actually do better for both price and convenience by buying with an agent than over the net. Also, look at both the airlines' own sites, as well as discount sites when shopping around. Basically, I try everything...
Some of the sites wont let you book a child under two in his or her own seat, automatically making them "lap" babies. Luckily, more and more airlines now give a "on lap"/"own seat" option for under 2's. Look carefully as this isn't always obvious. I hate to tell you to cheat, but if you want a seat for your baby and there is no way around the booking, add a year or two to the birth date. You are not trying to "get away" with anything, in fact, the airline is making more money off of you. It is simply to get around a computer glitch. If you're not comfortable with this solution, another option might be to take the fares and contact the airline. Tell them your dilemma and ask them to "match" the Internet price ticket, and then you will purchase from them.
It's a good idea to check the school vacations both where you are and where you're going. I and many I know, have saved major amounts by leaving a few days before school lets out, when the prices go up. If you're not bound by school schedules yourself, this might be a good way to save some money.
Recently, I was informed that there is at least one airline which will allow you to purchase a seat for your child and will reimburse you if the flight is not full (and therefore you can use a free seat). Be wary of that because they might fill the flight with stand-by's, the airline employees or others (perhaps missed flight/bumped passengers) and if your baby does not have a ticket, they will go back on your lap and someone will occupy that seat. So if your airline does this, be sure to ask about the standby list and only do this if the flight is really empty.
Check all connections yourself, especially on the net. Make sure they're reasonable and there isn't some nasty surprise, like having to change airports or having a really unreasonably long stopover. Remember that if you're flying into the States, you must clear Customs and Immigration at your "first port of entry" with no exceptions. If you're connecting, the process is straightforward. There are agents to help re-collect your bags and there are usually a lot of people doing the same thing. Having children in tow can slow you down and there can be some long lines in high season. When you reserve, be sure you have time to complete this process.
Remember that a 'direct' and a 'non-stop' aren't always the same thing. Always double check that the same flight number doesn't stop and even change air crafts. With a "direct" flight, it can. Often these terms get confused and people think they're the same, sometimes not realizing until they board.
Only let an agent convince you that a connection of an hour and a half is enough time if you're mostly;
-staying within the same country or connecting in a country that doesn't require re-claiming your baggage (within the EU is an example)
-to a connection point that has a lot of flights going to your final destination
-staying in the same terminal (preferably with the same airline)
You still have very little "jiggle" room if your first flight is delayed. If not all of the above applies, give yourselves two hours minimum, adding time for changing terminals, changing airlines and getting through security, immigration and customs (for international). This might be excessive to someone flying without kids, but remember that you can't just jog through the airport anymore, like you do/did on solo business trips. Everything with children will take more time. By contrast, I can easily pass three hours in almost any airport with my kids when that would have been a horribly long wait in my pre-baby days.
This is general information on connections; if changing airlines, ask if they have "one stop check-in" so that you wont have to repeat the process. Some "code shared" airlines have "seamless" check-in where you get all your boarding passes at one time. Other times, you'll be checked in but will have to collect your boarding passes at the connection point. This isn't the end of the world and often can't be avoided. Just find out what steps your connection involves so that you're not standing in line for nothing or run into problems because you were supposed to do something that you didn't. I don't think this is a criteria for which route or airline to take. I have chosen flights based on connections and airport changes but whether you can get your boarding passes right away is really only a detail, albeit a nice one if you can get it!
Don't change airports if at all possible. Watch out for this, especially on the net where the airports might be listed in tiny lettering. Look carefully at each airport code before hitting the "enter" button. I did this once, which was rectified by a very nice reservations agent. I was "saved" because I called right away and there was room on the flight I really wanted. Don't make my mistake or you might not be as lucky!
You'll hear a lot about which airline is "best" for traveling with children. I discussed car seat use later, but in general, I really don't suggest digging into the subject unless you absolutely have no other criteria to consider. By the time you look at prices, availability and routing, I doubt there will be much choice. To be honest, from someone who worked out of countless airports, your experience might depend more on the crew on that specific route than on the airline itself. When someone gives their opinion on the subject, it's really only relevant if they flew on the same exact flight at the same time of year. I'll have someone rave on about a certain airline to learn that the flight was half empty. The fact they got great service is not a big surprise.
These (often) new companies are making air travel more affordable, but some of the rules are slightly different than flying with regular companies.
First of all, they often fly into really remote airports. In fact, objections have been raised over what cities they supposedly serve and even ended up in court. Some airlines even list their airports by different cities than for which they were originally named, for example, one company claims to fly to "Barcelona" when it is really Girona, quite a distance away. Occasionally, they actually use a more convenient airport or perhaps they land closer to where you're headed but find out exactly in which airport they use. Do not simply go by the city on their list.
I recommend never mixing same-day travel between low-cost and "mainstream" companies. They don't have agreements (another cost-cutting measure) and there are other complications with totally separate reservations, including using different airports and having to transfer and check in again even if staying at the same airport.
One way they sell tickets cheaper is that they don't always handle connections. Check to be sure but tickets are often sold "point to point". This means you arrive at the connection point, you get your bags, pass through arrivals and head for initial check-in and do it all over again, even though it's the same airline. I've managed it alone with three children and it wasn't actually that terrible. It's usually obvious when you book that you're buying two separate tickets so this shouldn't come as an ugly surprise. Your baggage tags should have the right airport code and for many reasons, it's a good idea to know the code of your destination and check the tags going on your bags anyway. Schedule with lots of transit time. I gave it three hours and kept it sane and stress-free. We actually sat down and had a meal in between, bought some books and made a few calls.
For the record, the company itself will probably advise against this. We were once on a very delayed flight. A family waiting with us lost their next flight entirely, since they had another ticket for the same day. The airline offered no compensation and were very unsympathetic.
If they offer "priority boarding" at a cost, it's a good idea with children. Ask but they probably don't pre-board families at all or board them after those who paid to get on first. This "priority boarding" is usually not expensive but a silly thing to actually pay for. We end up simply getting on the first bus out to the aircraft. With open seating, you might have to really fight to seat the family together. One experience doing that convinced me that the small fee per person was well spent to get on slightly ahead of the rest. This is especially important for a parent flying alone with more than one child.
Find out if you can simply board earlier by using the on-line check-in service, if offered. Read about boarding on your airline's website because this process can be very different than what you're used to and policies can change from the last time you flew with them.
Some low cost airlines do offer reserved seats, again, if you pay a fee. I recommend paying this fee too, unless the flight is completely empty (a fact you may not be able to check). The problem is that if your family is split up, you may be in a position where you are asking other people to move to accommodate you. They may have paid for their reservation and are now inconveniencing them because you didn't.
Check that there are no restrictions to flying with more than one child under age 2. At least one foreign airline does not allow one adult to fly with two under-age two children since seats cannot be purchased for them.
If you want to use a car seat and you are not flying with a U.S. company, make sure that this is allowed. U.S. companies cannot ban car seat use on board but other nationalities can and do. Individual airlines can also impose their own rules.
I've learned that Southwest (WN) allows parents with babies to reserve a seat for their baby but can get a refund at check-in if the flight is not full. This is a nice option and I don't know of any other airline which offers this. Be sure though that there are not 40 standby passengers trying to get on your flight. It may not be reserved full but once the parent has given up their ticket, the airline can then fill it with a standby passenger, even an airline employee and the baby will have to go on the lap. Ask at check-in not just if the flight is full but how many are trying to get one (they usually know this too).
"Low-cost" companies in most countries usually don't serve meals and when they do, they're overpriced, limited and usually not the best quality. Meanwhile, you are often welcome to bring a whole picnic on board if you want. In the terminals where low-cost companies fly, often there are plenty of food stands which are conveniently placed by the boarding area, after the security points. So head for your gate as soon as you can and stock up for you and your kids. If you bring food from home, most security companies are more concerned with drinks and will allow most food through. Show the security agents directly any item that you have questions about and if not allowed, it will simply be taken away.
Be very aware of checked bags. It's usually cheaper to pay for your luggage ahead of time. It might be better to over estimate your number of bags because if you add one later, or worse, show up at the airport with more, this might mean paying a steep fee. Extra baggage at the airport might mean waiting in another line and dragging out the check-in process. When you fly with kids, do everything possible to keep check-in smooth and quick.
But before booking, do the math. The cost of transport to an out-of-the-way airport, especially early in the morning, might not be worth it. I've learned twice that these airlines don't join alliances so that means if there is a delay, you will not be switched to another flight on another airline. You have to wait until your specific flight is ready. Also, if you arrive in the evening, you might end up paying for a hotel an extra night, which you wouldn't if you took a more reasonably scheduled flight. The cost of checking bags is pretty heafty with some companies. Sometimes saving money is not actually saving much and your sanity is worth a price too.
"Bulkhead" seats are often recommended for families. We're talking about the ones with the wall in front. They are not necessarily in the front of the cabin, as many believe. It depends on the aircraft. I think they're ideal for toddlers as you avoid the problem of the child kicking the seats in front of them thus annoying the neighbors. You can also get in and out of these seats easier, as you will be doing that a lot with a toddler or baby. Plus, children can often play in that space on the floor, close to their parents and their seats.
Not everyone loves them though. There isn't much forward legroom (although sometimes they are comfortably set far back), and stowage is limited. If you have extra seats in that row, sometimes the armrests wont come up to let a child lie down (especially appreciated for older children without car seats). Of course with the newer entertainment systems, it's often not possible to put up the armrests anywhere, anyway. Some bulkheads are in front of emergency exits so only those over age 15 can sit there (among other restrictions and this rules exists in many countries). The other disadvantage cited is that if there is a large, pull-down movie screen, that could bother some children and keep them from sleeping. Obviously, this is not a problem on aircraft with individual screens.
Normally for bulkhead seats, you have to stow your bags just for take-off and landing. I've had reports that some foreign airlines require the bags be stowed for the entire flight. You may want to ask about this if you are flying a non-U.S. carrier. Otherwise, feel free to get your things down once the seat belt sign is off.
Some airlines will not reserve bulkheads ahead of time and state that they're specifically set aside for families. You are then put on a waiting list. If there is too much demand, they will determine at check-in who will get them. I found this to be a cut and dry process, depending on the age and/or number of children. If you run into this situation, don't insist, and make sure you have reserved as good seats as possible as back-ups. Also be clear on when and where they will announce the lucky winners.
I find it mega-annoying if I've been refused a bulkhead seat, only to step onboard and see all adults sitting there. As stated earlier, those over age 15 can be placed in exit rows, which have more legroom. I actually wrote and complained and they told me that they were reserved for frequent flyers. So children get to kick other customers' backsides, who will then be annoyed and swear they'll never fly that airline again. Tell the poor bruised-backsiders "Sorry, we requested bulkhead, but this airline's policy is..." If you endure this too, please write and complain as I did. Maybe if enough of us speak out...
Recently, I read one of those (un)helpful tips to nursing mothers to sit by the window for more discretion. Perhaps there is a certain logic to it, I will admit but if you're on a long flight, I can't imagine anything more inconvenient than having to crawl over two other passengers every time you need to get up. I picture this nursing mother trying to get over two businessmen with a crying baby who's just done a "blow out" diaper, lugging a gear-filled diaper bag. Not a pretty picture. Trust me, for the tiny bit more of discretion you'll get, the inconvenience outweighs it by far. I have breastfed all three of mine in bulkhead and/or aisle seats and I never suffered as a result. As someone who only owns one-piece swimsuits, I'm not one to flash my flesh when not necessary. Fellow breastfeeders, you have your own section further down...
Some airlines have bassinets which mount on bulkhead wall. These are useful if available but you'll usually have to be in a bulkhead to get one, which can be one of the airlines criteria of who gets to sit at the bulkhead (if the baby is small enough to use it). If your baby is more than four months old, ask about what weight limit is, which varies from company to company. The highest limit that I know of is a year (and that's just one company). Many parents with babies who meet the weight limit find their "tall" offspring wont fit lenthwise so be aware of this is you have a lean and leggy baby.
Some bassinets can be suspended from the ceiling for center seats. I have only heard about this and never actually seen one in action. American rules on these are strict and don't be surprised if you can't get one on a U.S. company. I also understand that Canadian airlines now require that only sleeping babies can be placed in any bassinet inflight. Again, lots of different rules and availability regarding bassinets.
A bassinet should not be seen as an option to avoid bringing a carseat. For safety, again, there is no replacement for a car seat. Sometimes too, you will be requried to remove the baby from the bassinet and hold him or her in turbulence. Never leave an unattended baby asleep in a bassinet. The bassinet has to be stowed for take-off and landing so the child will then have to go either in his or her seat or on your lap.
Families flying with at least two adults often book two (or more) seats in front and back of each other. This is an obvious choice on smaller aircraft which don't have four across together and any airplane which has two seat rows. Also, this could work if there are at least four or five family members flying together. The advantage is that the most active child can sit directly behind a familiar adult or a baby in a car seat and not kick the seatback of a stranger.
Some parents also like booking the window and aisle seats when there are two, plus a lap-held baby, or a solo parent and child with seat, hoping the center one is left empty. If not, they can simply switch with the person who gets the middle seat. No one ever wants the center so swapping isn't usually a problem. Still ask and let them choose.
Another version, an excellent tip sent in to me was an expanded version of the above. Perhaps a family of three is flying and the aircraft has four middle seats. The family will book three seats together and then skip a seat, booking the aisle. They then hope that no one sits in the middle seat. If someone does arrive, logically they wont mind swapping for the aisle seat. I suggest a parent be the one to switch in this case, if possible.
If you have a "stranger" in your row, the rest of the seats taken by your family, choose with care who is to sit next to them. I thought it would be better for me to sit next to someone once, instead of one of my children. Bad call on my part. I was getting up too often. A better pick would be perhaps an older, perhaps school-aged, child. Obviously, you wont want to place a small baby or toddler next to them if you can avoid it.
Look carefully at the seating chart. Sometimes, even on a bigger aircraft, there are some rows with just two seats. The back of a 747, for example. This is good if it's a solo parent with a child or a couple with a lap baby. No one else in their row!
I've also heard of one parent sitting away from the rest and the two switching off to give each other a break. This is often cited as yet another (un)helpful flying "tip". The few times I saw this, the "displaced" parent ended up hovering over the other members of the family anyway, annoying those around them. I talked about this with upgrading and often switching itself is not allowed if it's between classes.
Some families prefer to sit in different rows. They'll place the child most likely to kick behind another family member in the row in front. This also is good for large rear-facing car seats that may not allow the seat in front of them to recline. If one of the parents is in that seat, all the better for other passengers. Obviously this only works with two adults (or say a teen) can be seated in each row, depending on the ages of all the minors.
Some parents love to sit in the very back. They like being close to the galley and toilets and figured their children's noise is less likely to disturb others. Added plus, you can often stand up in the back without disturbing others when the seatbelt sign is off. If your children need or want to get up, this way they're not too far from their seats. This is perhaps a better idea for flying with older children and teenagers. Please note that the galley is not always located in the back, although the toilets usually are. I don't recommend the very back of the plane if your children have a tendency to get air sick. The back is bumpier.
If you can't sit together, try to get groups of seats together, that include an aisle. You can trade aisle seats the most easily, followed by window seats. Avoid all center seats as these are almost impossible to swap. Try to stay in the same section. Call the airline before flying to change the seating. If not, ask at check-in. If that fails, try to get it done at the gate (usually automatically if you didn't succeed at the front desk when you first checked in). If all else fails, then you will have to do it on board.
I am a big promoter of "to each his own" for both comfort and security for you, your child and those seated around you. Flying with a car seat is actually the only way to fly safely with a baby. Now that I've stated this, I have to qualify that commercial aviation itself is very safe and there's very little chance of anything going wrong. But if it does, your child is not protected.
The FAA recently clarified its policy on car seat use. They now state that any child under the age of 18 has the right to use one. While this may be amusing to imagine a teenager in one, many parents of children with disabilities (not all are obvious) now can relax and not have to "justify" the use of a very necessary seat on board. The FAA has always protected the rights of handicapped children to use car seats on planes but some children don't fit neatly into these categories.
Every child has to have a seat on or after his or her second birthday according to the FAA and most foreign air authorities.
Using a car seat on board is the recommendation of the FAA, the NTSB, the AAP and other organizations including the AFA Flight Attendant union.
With some foreign companies, it's possible to fudge on this and I get all sorts of reports of people getting away with it. Not only is there the safety issue but twice, I have had delays due to finding out that a child was over age two without his own seat. Don't risk it. The burden will be on you to prove your child is under two, and you might be charged the full fare one-way ticket if your child is not or even removed from the flight if there is no available seat.
Some air regulators allow children to fly back on the same ticket after their second birthday and/or within a certain time frame. Double check on this if your agent tells you this is possible. It wont be allowed on U.S. companies.
Those under two year olds are allowed on laps for commercial reasons. Airlines think they can sell more tickets, and there's little push from parents to change this since they save money. Chances are, their children will still arrive at the destination in good shape. So there is little incentive from parents, airlines and the rest of the traveling public for whom it doesn't affect.
If still undecided on the car seat issue, you may want to read this article;
In a car seat, the aircraft could turn upside down and it can still hold your child. There was recently a small aircraft accident in Canada where the only survivor was a three year old girl strapped into a car seat.
If your baby is in an infant "bucket-style" seat, these are easier for travel. More information in the section on getting car seats through airports but be careful of the weight and height limits on these. If this is a long trip, be wary of the fact your baby might outgrow the car seat during your visit, posing several problems. Make sure your child is well under the weight limit and his or her head is below the top. It should be lower than one inch (2cm). If it's close, better to switch to the convertible seat for your departure (unless you were specifically planning on buying a seat at your destination).
Yes, a child in a car seat is less likely to disturb others. Mine were much calmer and settled in their own, familiar seat. Rear-facing seats have the added advantage for the person in front who wont be kicked. There is also the risk of a toddler jumping up and running around during taxi. If you can't control your toddler during this crucial phase of the flight, the whole family can be off-loaded for "non-cooperation with crew member instructions". This rule existed before 9/11 but is much more seriously enforced after. If any passenger got up during taxi, we were required to call the cockpit who would then stop the whole aircraft. I had to do this a couple of times for pressing personal reasons. If it happens several times, you may find yourselves being brought back to the gate and "off-loaded".
As a mom, I had to strap a couple of unhappy toddlers in their seats for both take-off and landing. I noticed they usually quieted down once they realized this was a non-negotiable issue. While I don't like using force, once they were strapped in, I could concentrate on their unhappiness, comforting them, talking to them and holding their little hands, not chasing them or holding them down in their seat or on my lap.
Just a reminder to never use car seats provided by a car rental company. I had a bad experience once and unfortunately, this is not rare. The car seats provided by rental companies are at best dirty, worn and incorrectly washed (i.e. soaked straps). At worst, they could be expired, missing parts and could have been involved in a recall. Your children's safety is too important to take the risk of using one of these. Always bring your own or make other arrangements at your detination.
Another advantage to bringing one on board was that I could get up and attend to my own needs if my child fell asleep in their car seat. I didn't take any more time that necessary but it was assurance that my child was safe while I took much appreciated trip to the restroom or got a drink. I almost always fly alone, and this was especially useful. I knew that turbulence could start and my child was safe. I usually tried to tell a neighbor or Flight Attendant where I was going or at least in which direction I was headed (so that they could find me if the baby woke).
If I haven't made a strong enough argument for bringing car seats by this time, I'll describe what happens in an emergency.
Please stop reading if this will upset you, but in a "prepared emergency landing", we were instructed to have the parent wrap the baby in a blanket and place the little ones on the floor. I'm so glad I never was put in a position to have to give these instructions, but the parents were to hold the child to the ground during the emergency landing. This has worked and has saved lives...but not always. Again, it wasn't as safe as having the child in a car seat.
Usually, car seats do not count against your baggage allowance but always ask, especially if flying a very small aircraft and/or a low-cost company.
Car seats pose a few practical challenges. I go into more details on this subject under "Car Seat Policies" below.
Car Seat Alternatives
Some companies outside of North America still use "belly belts" or "supplemental loops". These are separate contraptions, made of the same material as a seat belt, that attach to the parents' belts. (Skip to next paragraph if squeamish) These offer no protection to the child, but their use is justified by other air authorities, citing that they keep the child from flying through the cabin on impact. Children are safer loose in the adults' lap. In forward thrust, parents have come down on their own child, crushing them. This is called the "human air bag" theory. For this reason, the air authorities in Canada, the U.S., Germany and elsewhere ban these devices.
"Travel" car seats are not allowed to be used on board. The car seat has to have a hard back or shell. As an extra tip, I recommend that you research these products carefully before buying. Many are not recommended by car seat technicians, even when allowed by law. They're simply not safe but by contrast, the "Rider Safe" vest does get good reviews... for cars. While they are a viable alternative to a typical car seat in the car, these vests need a shoulder belt or a LATCH hook, neither of which are available on aircraft. Although it's a good, safe product, unfortunately, it wont offer any protection on an airplane.
Booster seats (including car seats that convert to boosters that are no longer used with the integrated harness) are never FAA approved. They basically only position the shoulder strap, which airplane seats lack. Also, airplane seats collapse forward for use in an evacuation. For these reasons, only seats with hard backs and internal harnesses are approved. If you have a seat which converts to a booster, check your manual carefully. With the internal harness, it may be FAA approved but used as a booster with the adult seat belt, it wont.
Presently, there is only one item that can replace a car seat, the CARES harness.
It is not as safe as a car seat because it has no side protection nor crotch strap. The child can easily unattach the seatbelt and even if he or she meets the minimum weight, children have been known to slide down in it. I can't confirm whether that was just because the straps weren't tightened enough.
There are non-safety related complaints that they can't bend their legs and either have to point them straight out or sit cross-legged while flying. Some parents complain that their children don't sleep well in it. Some children slide down in them.
Your child has to have a separate seat to use this product. You can try to ask for an empty seat if s/he is under 2 and you didn't purchase a seat, just as you would if you were bringing a car seat, but having this item does not give you any priority or right to an extra seat.
This is a very useful item in certain cases, such as if you don't need or have a car seat waiting at your destination, but for approximately $75, it is expensive for something that can only be used in an airplane. Obviously, it is much easier to transport than even the lightest car seat.
What you do not want to do is to use a CARES harness on board while checking the car seat as baggage, which risks the car seat getting lost and/or damaged. If you only have one child and/or are more than one adult flying, transporting a car seat is actually not that big a deal as their website suggests. See the "Getting Car Seats Through Airports" section.
Some enterprising Ebay and Craigslist participants are actually renting these items. I also imagine that they have good resale value, once the youngest child in the family outgrows it.
A big plus with this item is that it is approved by quite a few air authorities. So far, it is allowed in North America, the U.K., Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, but European Union approval is still pending. This item could avoid the dilemma discussed earlier in the "Car Seat Policies" section of "will they let me use my seat?".
Be aware that that it is only a small age group that can use it. Your child has to be at least a year old and weigh between 22 and 44lbs. compared to a higher-harnessed seat which could go from birth to age 6 and can still be used in a car. I understand that a higher weight version is currently being tested, but it is not yet available. I have not been able to get information to confirm this.
If you have car seats organized where you are headed, such as if you are visiting relatives who have reliable car seats your children will fit, a CARES harness is a good idea. Be careful of renting and/or borrowing car seats. Most expire after 6 years so when borrowing or using other peoples' seats, you may want to ask. It's best to know the seat's history and never use any that has been in an accident.
If you are headed to a large city where you will be exclusively using public transport, a CARES harness would make sense in this case too. It's also a good alternative if you have several children close in age and physically can't take all the seats you need, especially if only one parent is with them. You will probably still have to find a way to organize seats at your destination, avoiding using rental seats and/or checking your seat. In certain cases, it may be a situation of choosing the least of the evils.
No other similar item is approved for flying. Be careful of mismarketing with other products. One item is a vest the child weares that is then attached to the adult's seatbelt similar to the "belly belts" described earlier. It actually advertises that it "meets and exceeds FAA standards" when in truth, there are no FAA standards for these products. It says in its small print that the item is only meant to hold a child during the flight itself, not on take-off and landing. Turns out they used FAA facilities to test but this doesn't translates to actual approval. One airline actually bans this product.
Car Seat Policies
Before deciding whether you want to spend the money on the seat for your child, find out what your airline's policies are, which can vary widely. Some of the same airlines which brag that they are "child-friendly" because of amenities actually fall short on actually allowing you to keep your child safe. They may hand out a lot of toys but when it comes to securing your child, they just don't come up to the bar. When booking, this could also be a deciding factor in which airline to choose. It is for me...
If you are flying a U.S. registered company and your child has his or her own seat and you brought their FAA certified car seat, it is your right to use it on board which is protected by law. The FAA recently clarified its position and now any child up to age 18 can sit in an approved car seat. This is welcome news, especially for the parents of children with special needs, who may need the restraint while flying.
Do not be intimidated by stories of Flight Attendants not allowing car seats on board in the U.S. Know that the rules are in your favor and stand your ground...politely. Print up some of the links in this article and bring your owners' manual. Ask nicely to speak to the purser before things get heated and you can also ask they they show you in writing where your seat is not allowed. Every Flight Attendant with any U.S. company has to have their manual on every flight. They do not have to memorize all the information contained in the manual but they are required to be able to use it and know where to find certain information at will.
If you are not flying a U.S. or Canadian company, your rights are not guaranteed, and the requirements can be very inconsistent. Check directly with the airline, not necessarily that country's air authority. Individual airlines in the U.S. are not allowed to override FAA regulations (although they can add to them) but elsewhere, an airline can simply decide to change the rules set by its national air authorities. For example, in some places car seats are allowed, and regulations set accordingly, specific airlines have decided to ban car seats entirely and none are allowed in the cabin. Be especially careful of "low-cost" companies outside of N. America. They justify this safety compromise by citing that it saves time during boarding.
Some airlines, by contrast, are actually very flexible and allow car seats with approval from multiple nationalities. For example, if you FAA approved seat, you can still use it on some non-U.S. airlines, especially in the Far and Middle East. Lufthansa German Airline allows FAA approved car seats (welcome news since many military families fly domestically in Germany). This fact is usually stated on their website.
A common rule found many places the world, but specifically in the U.K., is that the car seat is required to face forward, even for a baby under a year old. This rule has no safety logic and means that most infant seats, which are designed only to face backwards, cannot be used at all.
Be aware that infant seats must have a "lap belt installation" option. This means that they can be secured with just a two point lap belt. Many infant bucket seats sold in Europe need the shoulder belt to install, which is why they are not approved for air travel.
In addition, some airlines do not allow car seat use on take-off and landing for babies under six months old. Some even then require the use of the dangerous "belly belts" which put them at risk if there is great forward impact. This goes against all my Flight Attendant training, and I have no idea as to why a smaller baby does not have the right to be kept secure in his or her own seat and face the correct direction according to the manufacter's instructions.
Also, there can be age limits. Children are often prevented from using a car seat on his or her third birthday on some foreign companies, regardless of weight. If you have an approved car seat and plan to take it on board to use at your destination, too bad. You have to risk damage and/or loss by checking it. If your child is of small stature, that's also your problem. This could affect children with certain disabilities so check if there are local laws which override this nonsensical rule.
By the way, I have to say that these rules will continue if parents do not speak up. If you think that changes need to be made by your local air authority, please let them know. Why should children in the U.S. be allowed to fly more safely than elsewhere?
I have used the "wrong" nationality car seat for my child on many occasions. I simply board, install the seat and see if anyone notices. This has worked more times than it hasn't. The seats were approved for airline use but not by the "right" countries, but when they were removed, I simply handed it over and they stowed it on board somewhere. There was no penalty or punishment. I did have the purser brought over once and discussed it. He actually admitted that he was, indeed, forcing my child to travel less safely but his hands were tied by the rules. Another time, on another airline and nationality, they took it, told me they'd give it back to us and then simply didn't.
Some airlines are not inspected as often as others. I used to not check seats for the FAA sticker on purpose. I felt strongly that if the parents were conscientious enough to cart the seat on board and use it, I was not going to split hairs and give them any problems. Once I actually told a FAA inspector my sentiments. This same inspector was on several of my flights and contributed a lot of the information included in this article.
For the record, foreign car seats approved for airline use are allowed on U.S. companies. Check link in next section.
Remember that no matter how illogical and nonsensical a rule may be, worldwide, cooperating with the crew is required. Crew members cannot change rules set by their airline and/or national air authority. Overall, commercial air travel is very safe, and statistically, your child is still safer on board the aircraft, no matter how he or she is carried or held, than they were in the car on the way to the airport. The bottom line is that you purchased the ticket, it's up to you to do the homework if this issue is important to you.
If things are not resolved to your satisfaction, you must follow their instructions, no matter how counter-logical, do what they say and register a complaint directly with the airline later. Tips on this are in the last section, "When things didn't go as well as they should have..."
Car Seat Placement in the Cabin
Having a car seat rarely limits where you can sit in the cabin. Contrary to popular belief, car seats are not required to be at the windows. It does only if the aircraft has only one aisle. While this is a good place for a seat, it simply can't block another passengers' exit to the aisle. If you are on a larger aircraft with two aisles, you can place the car seat(s) in the center section, including center bulkhead seats. They can't be in aisle seats but in the center seats of the center section of the row.
If you have more than one car seat, you cannot have a person in between them. They have to be installed next to each other. Perhaps there can be an empty seat between them but not another passenger, not even the parent.
There are a few restrictions to placement. Of course they can't go in an emergency exit because anyone under age 15 is not allowed to sit there at all (car seat or not). On smaller aircraft, car seats and children in CARES harnesses are not allowed to sit behind (sometimes also in front) of an emergency window exit. The reason is that in an emergency, the door is completely removed and thrown aside, perhaps in the aisle so the airline prefer that all adults sit there. Please note that FAA regulated airlines are allowed to set their own rules on this matter, depending on their emergency policies. They have a right to add to the existing rules (but not the opposite) so even if you were allowed to sit somewhere on one airline, you wouldn't automatically be able to on another.
The CARES harnesses have fewer placement restrictions than car seats. They can go in aisles and placed in the middle seat at window rows.
If you are flying a U.S. company, there is a FAA document to back up this information. It may be a good idea to look it up, print it and even bring it along. This is "FAA Advisory Circular 120-87B" which some parents print up and take along. Look specifically at page 11 (at the bottom).
Please note that if a car seat is FAA approved, it does not automatically mean that the seat will fit on all aircraft seats. If you are worried that it will or won't fit, measure the bottom, or at the widest point, and call the airline. Have your exact flight number and they can look up the width of the airplane seat. A few airlines have this information on their websites. I can't recommend some of the general aviation web information sites since they aren't always accurate and recommend checking directly with the company.
Most of the time, if the car seat "spills" into your space, it isn't a big deal and you can usually adjust your armrests to get it into position. Your car seat's widest spot may not be at its base. Just don't panic if the measurements are just a little too large. It will probably still fit...
I really advise against using any upgrades if you have a baby or toddler. It sounds nice, a little more room to move, a better meal, etc. The truth is that the passengers in the front get really annoyed with young children very quickly. Some of them will have to disembark straight into meetings and presentations on arrival and need to sleep or work the maximum possible. Many of these passengers have justified paying the extra money specifically to avoid the noise in economy, including sitting near children and babies.
If you have frequent flyer points and a child under two years of age, your points are better spent getting an extra seat for an under-two baby in economy. If you have a bad back or other physical problem, having two seats in economy is still usually better for you than sitting in the bigger business seat, because you still having to constantly lift your child up every time you get out. You can still get "pinned" under a sleeping child in any class of service!
The atmosphere is definitely more welcoming for little ones in the back. There's a bit more noise, children are less noticeable and moving around is more acceptable. I had several small members of a royal family in First once and the other passengers weren't thrilled. For the record, both companies I worked for didn't allow their employees to fly with their own children in business class until they were at least 8 or 10 years old so they're concerned with small children in the front of the plane too.
But if you want to sit up in the front with your child and you have the money and/or points to do so, this is your right. Some parents are very confident of their child's behavior, or if their child cries, too bad for the rest of the cabin. If you have a "thick skin" and are determined, by all means go for it, especially if the child has a seat. On a really empty flight, it might even be a good idea. As a generalization, you may find your child is more welcome up front on a flight headed to a vacation, not business, destination.
Also, if you're not familiar with the business or first class seats of the airline you're flying, find out about them. Some have screens or other features that might may interacting with your child difficult, even seated next to you. Most seats can accomodate a car seat but not fully reclined. At least one airline has a cone over the top of the seat for privacy, which could get in the way with installing a CARES harness.
If your family is split and one parent is in business, make it clear to your children that they are not to go up to that class to visit the other parent. Many airlines have rules preventing passengers from walking into a higher class of service, even if related to someone seated in that section. You may not be allowed to swap either, so don't plan on doing this if you book the separate seat in business or first. Avoid having children sit by themselves in another section without at least one parent with them.
Some airlines actually allow this and if informed, can make boarding the children in a separate class easier. Check with the airline's website for more information.
I really advise against families splitting up in general. I've seen it go wrong on too many flights and I recommend for many reasons, sitting together in whichever cabin you choose.
Consider ordering special meals. Don't assume your child will like and eat the standard fare. To respond to complaints about bland airline food, some companies have gone exotic. Unless your child is used to sushi, pâté and quinoa, order some sort of special meal when you book. If you reserve on line, call the airline afterwards to let them know. Tell the reservation agent the age of the children if you choose children's meals, but sometimes it works better if the whole family is eating the same food. Some parents complain that the children's meals are too "greasy," and some airlines have cut them out due to budgetary constraints.
If your child has any food allergies, you may have meal options to accomodate your little one. Nut allergies are especially common and very serious if they occur inflight. Let the airline know and they should be able to inform you of their policy, whether it be with a special meal or if the airline has eliminated nuts from their menu (or even for that flight, if your child is especially sensitive). Ask your doctor what precautions and/or supplies you should take for your child when flying.
We usually order Kosher, which is usually pretty tame and almost always available when ordered ahead of time. It has the added advantage of coming in handy individually wrapped containers of which various units can be saved for eating later on. Since we're not religious, I ask them to remove the bulky outer wrapping ahead of time. You don't have to be Jewish to order it and for Moslem families, be aware that they could contain wine sauces (Kosher and Halal have similar principals but Jewish dietary rules don't excude alcohol). Kosher meals often arrive from the kitchen frozen so ask the Flight Attendants to check that it's completely thawed before serving.
Be aware that once you order a special meal, you usually can't change your mind and have a standard meal. If the flight isn't full and/or they are over-catered, maybe they can accomodate this request but don't expect or demand it.
Airline policies can vary but it's usually best to order these meals at least a few days ahead of time. Don't wait till check-in.
I really, really do not recommend taking anything onboard except things you'll need for the flight. Garment bags and children are an especially bad mix. If I have to bring evening dresses, they are now laid out carefully on the bottom of my suitcase, only slightly wrinkled but definitely worth not carting them along with my kids. If possible, do not pack delicate clothes with any liquid bottles in the same suitcase. My "best-woman" and my daughters' flower girl dresses were even transported transatlantically to my sister's wedding this way and arrived in excellent shape. Be sure to remove them and hang them up as soon after arrival as possible.
You and your little ones have to pass security points and may have to walk a long way. Even something small can easily be lost when you're flying with children and you may quickly regret dragging even a bottle of duty free liquor with the diapers.
Some airlines are charging for bags, but it's still worth paying the fee and carting less things to the gate. You run the risk that the staff will see your extra bags and you'll end up having to check them anyway. They are on the lookout for this! It's just not worth the headache. Just pay for the bags and don't waste energy and time dragging unnecessary bags on board and then trying to find room to stow it all!
If you are flying with more than one adult and more than one child, you may want to separate supplies for each child in case you end up sitting apart. If you have two diapered children, this is especially important. You may not need two separate diaper bags, although you could, but pack your carry-ons accordingly. This is a classic "twins" tip but applicable to anyone family with more than one diapered child.
I wont discuss the contents of checked in luggage since that's not that relevant to the topic. The one tip I do want to share is if you have any battery operated toys. Either turn them off and tape the switch in place, or better yet, remove the batteries altogether. It could be a security problem if the mechanical monster turns on while the bags are being loaded on to the aircraft. Also, any toy with a remote control is not allowed to be used onboard. You can bring the toy but put the remote control in the checked lugguage.
The only other tip about checked luggage I want to add is to pack equally sized bags which weigh more or less the same. Pick them up and make sure they are all about the same wieght if you do not have the time or opportunity to actually weigh them. This is a general tip but with kids, chances are you will have more gear than expected and wont want to waste time during check-in paying for oversized bags.
With carry-on items, when my children were still in diapers, I took a backpack, a sling and a diaper bag. I talk about slings and other baby carriers in a separate section. I do not take a purse but do use a small bag with the valuables around my neck. This means I don't have to dig or pull my backpack off when I have to show tickets and passports. Everything else goes in the backpack, more valuable items stuffed at the very bottom.
The backpack I use is bigger than a the standard sized ones but small enough to still go under the seat. These backpacks come up to my knee when placed on the floor. I like ones with a top handle and lots of side pockets. With more than one child in diapers, I also had the diaper bag, which had everything I needed up to the first part of the flight including the food and first aid items. I use the backpack for the extra diapers, the never-seen-before toys, the changes of clothes and my items.
Yes, I bring a complete change for all of us. Not enough room? At least bring a pair of shorts and T-shirt for each of you, just in case. I put everything in plastic and tie them up with lots of rubber bands to squeeze them down to take up less space. Like I mentioned before, I split the diapers into two packets and put one in each the diaper bag and the backpack.
Now that our baby bottle and diaper days are over, the diaper bag is ditched. Taking just the backpack might also work if it's a short flight and you only have one child in diapers.
For myself, I bring one small makeup bag with my toothbrush, floss, paste, face cleanser, hand lotion, lip balm and lipstick (for right before landing). Even with new travel restrictions, I manage to get all that through but I am prepared to throw any of it away. My hands and lips get really dry on the plane so I was happy to keep those items. I try to remember anti-bacterial wipes, which are good to wipe down the traytables, the taps in the lavs as well as for your and your children's hands. I found that moistened flushable toilet paper is now available in little individual packs, good news for recently-trained children. If you can't find them, you can put a few in a zip-lock.
Some people like to spray water on their babies to refresh them. If you want to do this, please use plain water (either in a commercial bottle or bring your own). You may want to go through security with the bottle empty. Please don't use saline water and this could dry out your baby's skin.
Each child also carries his or her own with toys they've chosen. I still take the food and the extra clothes myself. They generally started doing this once they could walk. My youngest at age two, didn't do too well with her bag so decide if your child can manage and wont lose or forget it.
I also suggest doing some editing of what goes in these backpacks. Avoid anything security won't like and anything noisy. Make sure nothing is so valuable it can't be lost or replaced. I keep new, never-seen toys and books with me until the "unveiling" onboard, and then they carry it, giving me more space in my backpack. Security doesn't like wrapped presents but put it in a colorful bag if you want the same effect. Some parents also leave one end open without tape for security.
I take my camera in my backpack. Another good tip I received is to take recent pictures in case the child gets lost. This is especially easy with a digital camera. You can simply snap as you leave for the airport, in the same clothes, if you have time. If these photos not worth keeping, they can simply be erased later on. If the your child gets lost, you have photos of exactly what they look like and exactly what they're wearing to show the airport personel.
Before leaving home, empty your bags, especially your diaper bag and to search for any forgotten gels or liquids now banned per the new security restrictions. There is no great risk or fear here. Security will simply confiscate anything they don't want you to take on board. It's annoying and time-consuming to have them remove items so do a ruthless clean-out just for the sake of getting through security with a minimum of hassle.
All liquids have to be under 3 oz. but there are exceptions for baby formula, milk and other liquids if you are flying with a child. They say you can bring a "reasonable quantity". So far, I have not heard any parents challenged on this.
Read up on it yourself before leaving if you are flying a U.S. company. Other air authorities have similar rules.
Here is an actual grid saying what's allowed and what isn't;
I couldn't confirm is whether the liquids have to be in the original containers. I suggest using travel packs of your favorite items, the type they sell in the bins at drug stores, including toothpaste. Bring new, unopened items, rather than for example, diaper cream you've been using, just to be on the safe side. The TSA, for example, doesn't allow half tubes of toothpaste.
I was always a big zip-lock fan, even before the TSA required them, and this is a classic travel tip, now required. Recommended quart-sized bags now even have a little airplane printed on them. Put all liquids together in them (called "medium" in metric-system countries). Whatever medicine, with the appropriate spoon can go together in one ziplock. All the bandaids in another. Even the wipes merit their own. Open my bag and it looks like an advertisement for ziplock. Not only is it easier to find stuff this way, it's cleaner (in case anything spills outside or inside. It's great if security has to go through your stuff. They wont actually have to touch anything directly and they can see what it is. It's also easier to put it all back together after they're done going through your things.
Rolled up in my back pack, I always have a cloth bag, the kind they sell in grocery stores as an alternative to plastic and paper. I also have plastic bags for anything nasty, but for this purpose, I go for cloth. It fits in my backpack, wont rip and doesn't make noise. Once onboard, I remove what I need for the next few hours such as wipes, a couple of diapers, perhaps my own toiletries, etc. and put them in this cloth bag, then get the rest of my things out of the way. Before, I used to drag the whole diaper bag into the lavs, but that didn't work too well and I looked like I was moving in. Now, I simply throw in what I need for that specific lav excursion (there will be lots of lavatory talk throughout, this features prominately when flying with children).
My backpack basically stays in the overhead bin, with the extra cloths, reserve diapers and anything else that will only be needed later on. The diaper bag, by contrast, went down at my feet after take-off (if seated in the bulkheads) or was stowed under the seat in front of me.
I was happily informed of a product specifically for carrying diaper supplies into restrooms. It was basically just a bag with a handle. I think a normal cloth shopping bag is just as good, although the rather expensive product was cuter.
I make sure everything, including the children, can be carried in more than one way. My backpack has a handle or can fit in the stroller, the diaper bag can go over my shoulder or, also, on the stroller and the stroller can fit all three children-obviously not at once! Again, the sling could fit both my younger two children for ages so I had a variety of ways to get through an airport. I see to many parents with sleeping children draped over their shoulders. Not a fun way to get where you need to go. More about baby carriers in a separate section.
Take snacks and again, don't worry about security. I've had no problems myself and no reports. Avoid bring snacks with peanuts in them even if your child is not allergic to them. Many airlines have elimiated them and people with peanut allergies can be so sensitive that even having nuts around them can set off a reaction. This could be a scary thing for a child to witness, not to meantion the guilt you would feel. Yes, this is highly unlikely (and those with this allergy usually bring supplies for their condition) but why take that risk? Also, peanuts are choking hazards. All the Flight Attendants know the Heimlich maneuvre but none of them need to practice on your child. Grapes are another choking hazard you'll find on flights. If you bring them from home, halve them (even for older toddlers) and look out for them with your meals.
Put luggage tags with your name and addresss on all your bags if possible while still at home. Those small ones the airlines give out are easily ripped off. You also want to write the address on a piece of paper and put that inside the bag.
Another "helpful hint" I read about had to do with bringing large safety pins and making a tent to give the child more "privacy." I have issues with this idea for a number of reasons. First, getting the pins past security. Second, bothering the people around you. What happens if those in front of you want to recline or raise their seat? If the seatbelt sign comes on inflight, the flight attendants have to check to make sure everyone is strapped in. This would be difficult with your child under that thing. The F/A's would probably wake them. Oh, and what about the wonderful inflight air, even staler under the blanket? Also, I don't really see the whole point. My advice, leave the pins at home!
Dressing for Flying
I don't recommend sandals for anyone, big or little no matter how hot it is or will be at your destination. If connecting, you might want to avoid high-top laced shoes since you might have to remove them a couple of times in security, although I don't think it necessary to pick your footwear specifically for this purpose as the TSA recommends. I wear what is the most comfortable, even if I need an extra second to lace them up after security.
I bring socks to wear onboard and remove all of our shoes as soon as we're airborne (not before take-off in case of an emergency evecuation). You can also bring slippers. Those baby shoes made completely out of leather work great. If not in a bulkhead, shoeless feet will have less potiential to kick the seats in front of you.
I prefer to dress my toddler girls in leggings, even in summer. I put my boy in light, loose pants. Avoid white and go for patterns. Often it's advised to dress children in bright colors, to be detected better in a crowd. Don't feel the need to dress for the weather either for your departure or detination. The airports and aircrafts are climate-controlled. Put the appropriate gear at the top of your checked luggage and throw it on, if necessary, before you leave the airport.
If your baby doesn't crawl yet, consider putting him or her in a full sleepsuit, preferably with feet out of a light material. Lots of babies travel that way and no one will think "Why is that kid still in pajamas?" If it bothers you that your child is garbed in sleepware for travel, or if the trip to or from the airport is too hot, change them once airborne. I used to pick out a specifically cute one for travel and for my ego, something clearly decorated for a boy or girl.
Bring a bonnet, even in summer, especially if your baby is bald. It can get a little chilly onboard. A warm cabin makes people dehydrated, sick and affects air quality so it's kept a little cool onboard on purpose. If it feels outright cold, tell a flight attendant. On some airplanes, it's still possible to adjust the air but this is less likely on the newer planes. Dress the whole family in layers so that you're comfortable at all points in the journey.
One recent suggestion was to bring a "travel organizer" to put on the back of the seat in front of you.
Obviously, this wont work well if you're in a bulkhead seat, but then again, it would be less needed. She said it kept her from having to dig in her diaper bag.
I always bring small bottles of water or a sippy cups for my children. Bring empty cups or be prepared to dump the contents in security. The water bottles also can be taken so we drink them before. I don't depend on getting enough bottled water onboard and I'm usually dying of thirst during the wait at the gate. There is usually NOT an unlimited supply of bottled water onboard. When I worked, we used to run out at the end of the first service. Don't depend entirely on getting bottled water the whole flight for your children. With the new travel restrictions, water too might be confiscated in security but it can be purchased now once past the checkpoint.
Unfortunately, I'm getting mixed reports from parents on this subject. If you're flying with a baby and "normal" baby bottles, there doesn't seem to be a problem with formula and water. Security is fine with letting that pass. Older kids' various drinking needs (i.e. boxes, sports bottles, etc.) cause more dilemmas. Sometimes cartons and boxes of milk and juice are allowed, other times not. One time they simply declared that my children were too old to get the water bottle exemption. I didn't argue but now they're ready to either drink up or give up before hitting the X-ray machine.
What was allowed out, may not be allowed back, especially when flying internationally. Try to get the skinny on the airport where you will be flying from and be aware that international and domestic sections might operate differently.
I still recommend bringing sippy cups for practical purposes to avoid spilling onboard and to transport whatever liquid you can. When the drink cart rolls around, I ask the F/A's to fill those up, instead of giving them open cups. Keep using them for as long as the child is willing to drink from them! Also, those disposable kind work well too as do sport-style bottle with spouts that can be pulled up. I also keep those plastic bottles with lids and straws for this purpose. These might be more acceptable options for older children who refuse sippy cups.
Once a child is aware of the experience, around ages two or three, it's best to discuss it ahead of time but in a very non-challant manner. Actually, children usually love to fly, and it's rare that they're scared. It's usually an adventure for them.
There are some good children's books on this subject. I actually recommend getting them from the library, unless you're sure you'll use them again.
What can be scary for children is going through security. Even my veteran flyers don't like this part. Here is a good page to read on the subject from the TSA website. Look at it even if you'are not flying a U.S. company;
Discuss the fact that they will have to put all their belonging on the X-ray machine belt, have to walk through an arch and perhaps take off their shoes, too. Make it clear that they will not have to separate from you but will have to go through the metal dectector by themselves. I walk through first and then coax my little one to follow. Tell them that you will be doing the same.
A good tip for parents of older children, please note that some of our offspring like to make running commentaries on what they're seeing, other people, etc. This can be amusing in the car, or at home, but in the airport and airplane, there will be plenty of people within earshot. This is especially important for bilingual families, whose offspring are used to no one else understanding one of their languages. The whole plane might be listening in when your offspring express their opinions on their fellow travellers and worse, might understand them. In any language, if you know your child has a habit of "calling it like they see it", perhaps have a talk beforehand.
Some flying tips say to go through the whole process step-by-step. This might be "over-kill," especially if your child has flown before. It also may only work with children with unusually long attention spans (I know I'd have trouble sitting through it all myself!) Usually, you have a few weeks, if not months, before leaving. Point out airplanes in the sky, airports, when you pass them and any airplane images you see on T.V.
Avoid any movies with scary airplane scenes. Most of these are so full of inaccuricies that we airline personel even find them amusing. Clueless Flight Attendants, terrorists able to bring an entire army's arsenal of weapons abord and other completely absurd scenes. Even if you point out such stupidities, you child will not necessary take that information on board and focus solely on the scary scenes.
Organizing Leaving and Arriving
These are somewhat general tips but when you fly with children, you have to be extra-organized with all aspects of flying. A slight oversight could cause a lot of avoidable inconveniences which are annoying when you're alone, but unbearable with your offspring.
A very unhelpful flying tip I've read is to not let a child sleep on the way to the airport. We live two hours from the closest major airport so trying to manage that with my own kids would be impossible. Having a cranky toddler during check-in, getting through security and boarding sounds like a nightmare, not to mention if there's a delay. I honestly can't see the harm in a quick nap in the car. I let mine sleep and I have never had a problem getting them to snooze in the air. Children can get over-stimulated and then not sleep because of all the excitement so this tip can backfire.
If someone is dropping you off at the airport, if at all possible, have them park and come inside with you. They can help watch your children during check-in and if they can still until the flight actually leaves, this is a good idea in case of a cancellation. Have everyone bring cell phones, fully charged before leaving for the airport, and make sure you have each others' numbers.
Before you leave, if you are being met at the airport at your destination, give the person meeting you your entire itinerary, not just the last flight they'll be meeting. Instruct them to check either the Internet or call the airline's reservation number before leaving for the airport to make sure that all flights were on time.
If you are flying standby, give them the information about the flight that you'll be trying for first. The code I used to use was that if I didn't call, that meant that I did make the flight, not the opposite. No news is good news. Many times, standby passengers are handed boarding passes and shoved on board last minute, without time even to call or SMS from their cell phone. By contrast, if you weren't successful the first time, you probably will have time to call and give the details of the next flight you'll be trying to get on.
If calling poses a problem because of time differences, organize this ahead of time. There are a number of solutions including having them turn their ringer or cell phone completely off when they go to bed. You leave a message in the middle of the night and they check their messages as soon as they're up. You could even call a "third party" who stay up later/get up earlier than the picker-upper, who would then pass on the message at a more appropriate time. Usually, if there is a that much of a time difference, the flight will be long enough to sort something out. If there is any change of plans, especially when flying standby, remember that airlines wont say what flight you're on for security reasons.
I've seen a lot of upset passengers on board after delays and problems with their journeys. These kinds of problems are inconvenient anyway but that much worse if you're stuck at the airport with cranky, hungry, tired children (when you're also cranky, tired and hungry) while waiting because someone didn't get the information they should have about their flight.
If you are planning to rent a car at your destination, you may want to consider renting the next day instead of right on arrival. Either have a car/limo arranged to meet you or grab a taxi instead, especially after a long flight. Getting to the car rental place, which might involve a long walk and/or shuttle bus, dealing with the paperwork, etc. with kids might not be too pleasant. It might save you a days' rental on the car anyway and a taxi ride could be less than the extra day of rental.
If there are two adults, one can go get the rental car the next day while the other stays at the hotel with the children. They may even be able to deliver the car to the hotel. Consider how much driving will you really be doing the first day after your trip. The only sight that you and your children will initially want to see, may be your beds.
People ask me which stroller I recommend for flying. I always say to bring the stroller you need for the entire trip, not specifically for the flight. Most airlines accept any stroller than folds and I've seen too many tiny babies slumped in rickety umbrella strollers in airports. There is no logic to compromising your baby's comfort.
Double strollers are usually allowed. Check your stroller's dimentions and look on your airlines' website to be sure. Parents report that they are able to fly with strollers that perhaps were just a tad over the allowed dimentions cited on the airlines' website. If your stroller folds well, but is perhaps a tad long, it will probably be accepted. Again, don't ask, don't tell!
For flying, I usually found it easier with three children close in age to use a single stroller and a baby carrier (more about those below). I could alternate between the ones who could walk, be carried and sit in the stroller but do what works for your family. For travel, if there are at least two adults, you may find two single strollers easier both for flying and also at your destination (i.e. tiny European sidewalks or anywhere with big crowds). It also means that dad can take one to get something to drink while mom stays behind with the other child or dad can wander with the older child while leaving mom stays with the baby sleeping in the other stroller, etc.
Never buy a stroller with the idea of bringing it on board the aircraft as a carry-on item. The only exception would be a completely folding stroller that fits in a diaper bag. I only know of one brand. I'm having trouble finding it on the net so anyone with a link please send it in! If you use this completely folding stroller, keep it open through security. The concern is if a security person decides that it fits the category of "could be used as a weapon". No reports but just be sure they can clearly see this is a piece of baby equipment and not a weapon! Fold it up and put it away as you enter the aircraft. You may want to do this out of view of airline staff, who need to impose a no-strollers-in-cabin rule.
Unless you are flying charter, low-cost or a very small regional carrier, the stroller you have will probably be accepted. There are a few foreign airlines that allow bringing strollers on board but I still don't recommend doing it. More later on why.
American Airlines has imposed a strict 20lbs limit on gate-checked strollers. Heavier ones are to be checked at the counter. This has been upsetting for parents of multiples and closely spaced siblings as there is no exception. If there are two adults flying, having each push a single stroller under this limit may be one solution. Yes, there are parents who are choosing other airlines because of this restriction.
Normally, the stroller does not count against your baggage allowance but again, ask to be sure. Check your airline's website first. If you have these sorts of specific questions, it's better to email the company than call. If someone says over the phone that your stroller is allowed, you wont have the handy printout of an email to show anyone at the airport who tells you differently.
Before leaving, remove all "extras" on your stroller like cup holders, toys and even the sunshade, depending on the model. This is especially a good idea if your stroller is large. You can either put these items in your checked bags or leave them behind. Not only can they impede your passage through security but can get lost in transit. Since you'll only use it in the airport, you wont need the attached gizmos.
If your stroller has foam handle covers, you may want to either remove them, if possible, or cover them up. These often do get ripped so if they don't come off, wrap them in bubble wrap (or just plastic if that's what you have) and secure with duck tape. You can just push it this way through the airport (not pretty but who cares?)
Usually, strollers are "gate checked" which means that you will given a tag on check-in but you can keep the stroller with you until you get to the door of the aircraft. Sometimes they give the passenger the tag to put on themselves. Some are a little complicated (the tags that are like stickers) so don't hesitate to ask them to do it instead, but show them where is a good place. Make sure it goes somewhere it wont be squished or hidden when the stroller is folded.
If you have a "travel system" (the stroller with infant bucket car seat inserted inside), the stroller and car seat portions will each need a separate gate tag, if you wont be using it on board. If you have a seat for your baby and you know that the car seat can be used on the flight, you will not need to tag the car seat. Do put the tag on it if you are hoping to get an empty seat and are not sure you will be able to use it. This will save time at the gate.
You will leave your stroller either at the door of the aircraft or at the bottom of the stairs if you do not have a jetway and are boarding outdoors from the tarmac. Never try to bring a stroller on board an aircraft unless instructed to do so by a crew member. Yes, I have occasionally stuffed a very small umbrella stroller into a First or Business Class closet but in economy, when the flight was half empty but this is the exception, not the rule. If this does happen, don't expect it on every flight.
Metal luggage carts and strollers are not allowed in overhead bins for safety reasons. Even if the crew doesn't notice, or shockingly with some airlines, it's allowed. Please don't even try this. First of all, this will not make you popular with your fellow passengers. Stowage space is often at a premium and taking up so much space with an item that you do not need for the flight, will not go over well with your neighbors. More importantly, metal objects have come crashing down on passengers' heads, especially during disembarkment. You will be careful because you know it's there but someone two rows back will be in a hurry, grab their bag, which will hook on your stroller and next thing you know, it's come down on some little old lady's head. Let's just keep that from happening!
When you leave the stroller, attach the straps and fold it yourself. Some passengers have amusingly left their open strollers for us to fold up for them. Some Flight Attendants will not be so entertained and you probably don't want someone fiddling with your stroller anyway who doesn't know what they're doing. So that your stroller is not mishandled or left behind, please make sure it's all packed up.
An excellent tip given to me was to bring a bungee cord and double secure it before leaving it at the door. This can be the same bungee cord you used to secure your car seat to the stroller. Most strollers are only held closed with a small latch, often one that is easy to flip open. Your stroller is more likely to be damaged by popping open en route than how it is treated. You don't want some time-pressed baggage handler trying to pack it back up.
I was alerted that a couple of airlines are banning these bungee cords. This is difficult to confirm but a bag would avoid this situation, or wrapping the bungee in tape or even a piece of material. You may also bind the stroller with another item that ties. It's the hooks apparently that are the problem.
The strollers are usually kept in the hold along with wheelchairs so it's supposed to be gentler to gate-checking them. It also, in theory, should be cleaner. I will say that I've never seen the strollers at the arrival gate in bad shape.
If you want to put your stroller in a bag at the gate, by all means you can. Make sure you have a gate tag on the bag or on a part of the stroller that sticks out. Some strollers actually have specific bags made for their models you can buy. I personally use a camping duffel bag, which works just as well and is sturdier than most the stroller companies sell. An excellent tip I was given was to use an old laundry bag. Slip it over the top with the dirty wheels sticking out and secure with the bungee cord. Not only is this cheaper than buying a specific bag but you wont care if it gets dirty or ripped. It also would be easier to put on and take-off than anything that zips.
Another tip I was given was to be sure to put a tag with your name and address, perhaps flight number, airline and destination, in case the gate-check tag falls off.
On larger aircraft, passengers disembark from more than one door but usually, strollers and wheelchairs will be placed at only one door. Either listen to the welcome announcement when the plane arrives at the gate or tell a crew member that you have a stroller and ask where to disembark to collect it. If you exit the wrong door, you may have to walk all the way around to find it. Finding out where to go may save you time at arrival.
If you are connecting, usually the stroller is returned between flights. Ask about this during initial check-in to be sure. Once, when flying alone with a newborn and two toddlers, one airline informed me that they wouldn't return the stroller at a major airport, forcing me to connect without one. I did ask that a supervisor be called and after a bit of negotiation, they only excepted my stroller because of its small size. I also pointed out that stowage wouldn't be a problem since it was a combination car seat which I used on board. For future flights, I avoided booking with this airline and haven't flown them internationally since.
Some airlines in Europe and the Middle East often let you bring the stroller to the gate of the plane but you do have to collect it at baggage claim. Again, ask and be sure to have another way of getting your child to baggage claim, specifically a baby carrier, especially if your child doesn't walk far yet. This can be a long slog after a long flight and even a walking child may not cooperate or be asleep when you land. If you fly these routes a lot with your children, you may want to look into the completely folding stroller.
Getting Car Seats Through Airports
If you have an infant bucket-style seat, it may fit in the travel system you already have. You can take the whole contraption to the door of the plane and gate-check the stroller, while bringing the car seat on board.
If yours' is not part of a travel system, you can use a stroller frame. Something like this (please note that I am not promoting any of the sites in this section. They are all simply examples to show you);
This can be gate-checked just like a stroller.
Most infant car seats do not need the base for installation on an aircraft but check your owner's manual to be sure. You can either carefully pack it in your checked bags or a better option might be to leave it at home. If you'll only be gone a short time and/or you wont be in the car much, the inconvenience of hauling the base around might override the extra gesture of installing the seat in the car each time with the belt.
Be sure you are comfortable with the seat belt installation before leaving, either way. Take the seat out to your car and try it at home first. Don't try to figure it out with passengers pushing by you and your baby crying during boarding.
Another option, expensive but convenient, if you fly a lot, is the combined car seat/stroller. I received this as a second baby gift;
I actually loved it but you have to really use it to justify the price tag. It was great for other kinds of travel. When we drove on vacation, we didn't have to pack a stroller. I used it a lot in cabs. I was also able to convince some foreign airlines to let me bring it on board since it collapses down small (not a problem on U.S. companies since it's FAA approved).
I could also use the tether when installing it rearfacing in the car.
There are some drawbacks;
-The price. At $200, it is definitely a luxury baby travel product.
-The top shoulder slots are very low, as is the back of the seat. Even though officially, it goes to 40lbs/18 kilos, your child will probably outgrow it a lot sooner.
-Some parents don't like the fact it rides so low to the ground in stroller-mode.
-Some car seat technicians are not happy with the install in certain cars.
-The basket is very small and you can't hang things off the handles very well.
-The back is not adjustable.
To sum it up, this should not be purchased in lieu of either a good stroller or car seat. Consider this if you either will really use it and travel a lot or simply, have money to burn!
For "convertible" seats, or those seats that go to 40lbs/18kilos or beyond, transporting might be a bit more complicated. You are not going to be able to take one of those large luggage carts, the kind you usually rent (i.e. "Smartcart") through security, even pleading that you have a car seat to take. Have a way to transport your car seat from the security point forward (where most airports make you leave the rented cart behind). You can take the large luggage cart up to the security line but I find it much easier to organize this while I'm checking in. There can be a lot of people outside security, saying good bye, etc. and I don't want to pfaff with my things at that point. Once my luggage is gone after check-in, I find these carts too big anyway and get rid of them there. I then roll the car seat to security, through the line and up to the X-ray machine.
A market for car seat-toting products has cropped up. This is not an exhaustive list!
These products attach the car seat to a suitcase with handle and wheels.
I have a few concerns (which some parents have informed me were not issues);
-The handle was probably not designed to hold the significant weight of a child and a car seat. If it breaks the handle in the middle of the airport, you will have the triple problem of how to transport your suitcase, car seat and child through the airport.
-I can't recommend bringing a rolly bag for a carry-on when flying with children. I prefer a backpack with or without a diaper bag. These types of suitcases are convenient for business people but not parents who need something they can put at their feet and get to what they need in a hurry. They usually have to go in the overhead and you might need to stow it quite a distance from your seat.
This is an often-cited solution;
The biggest drawback is the price. I've also heard complaints about the screws that attach the car seat, getting them in and out. Apparently the newer model doesn't have this problem. It also does not fit all models of car seats. I have seen this "in action" and it did roll very nicely, although I think it's overpriced for what it is. You can get an excellent luggage cart for much less and I'm leary of the plastic bottom. I'm also getting reports of it breaking at the wrong time.
There are also car seat bags with wheels which can be rolled through airports. The top can be unzipped and carry-on items inserted.
The obvious drawback is that is doesn't have the child-ride option. This might be a good product to use if you will probably have to gate-check the seat.
There are several versions of products that make the car seat into a backpack.
This is good if your child need to sit in the stroller for most of the time. If he or she walks, you can transfer the car seat into the stroller and give your back a break.
Some parents manage to attach the car seat to the stroller with bungee cords. Depending on the model of car seat and stroller, other alternatives include fitting the car seat into the seat of the stroller or even putting a folded car seat in the basket (especially with a double side-by-side stroller).
The only foldable FAA approved car seat that I know of is the Radian 65 and 80. I have the 65 and I simply attach mine to a small, all metal, foldable luggage cart. There are lots of different designs. Mine is a relic from the first airline I worked for. I recommend the kind that are all metal and have a telescopic handle. The handle is less important but avoid ones with plastic bases. They break too easily (experience speaking). This is the idea;
This is mine and it's lasted over 20 years of heavy use. Other parents have success with cheaper metal carts sold at major retail stores for much less (as little as $15).
I use an extra bungee cord but other parents get creative with the LATCH straps. My toddler can even ride in it. I will admit this is a better alternative for a child who will mostly be walking. If we have a stroller, I fold it up and check it or usually arrange to borrow one at our destination.
Basically, any convertible car seat can be strapped on to a small luggage cart. The first time I saw this on the net, I thought it wouldn't be secure and safe. You want to try anything out at home first. Make sure it works and wont come loose. The fact is that with children, you are usually walking at a pretty slow pace indoors, often on carpets. The risks are minimal.
A note about bungee cords; they come in different sizes and some are easier than others to use than others. Some are hard to pull and others too stretchy for this project. Don't use a brand new cords the day of your flight. It's also a good idea to slip an extra one in your carry-on bag, just in case one breaks or gets lost during your adventure.
A parent recommended "flat" bungee cords, which she said were easier to minipulate. Again, I'm just plucking this off the web because of the photo;
Whatever mode of transport you use to get your car seat through the airport, try it at home first. I walked circles in our garage, pulling my Radian. I found the easiest way to strap it on with the bungee cord. Go out on the sidewalk, weather permitting. Make sure it works and you're comfortable assembling and disassembling it. It wont take long to get the hang of it and you'll be glad when you face the airport and crowds the day you leave.
Probably the best-kept secret to making flying, traveling and quite frankly, parenting easier is to have a good baby carrier. The selection today is huge and asking someone what their favorite carrier is, is like asking them their favorite toothbrush or perfume. A good carrier by definition should go to age 2 or 3. It's highly personal but there are some features that make flying specifically much easier with some models.
When I worked, I saw too many babies draped over parents' shoulders as they exited the plane. Also, never leave a baby (not matter how well he or she sits up) alone sitting on a luggage cart while you get your bags off the belt. It's virtually impossible to push a stroller and a luggage cart at the same time through customs, although one mom described pushing one, then the other... Sometimes babies cry in the air and they just need to be walked around the cabin a little bit...without straining your arms and back. A good baby carrier is the answer to all of the above.
The whole subject of carriers is well covered on the Internet. This is a good site which has comparison charts and products from a variety of companies.
Other "real life" resources include local La Leche groups or other breastfeeding support organizations. I found some once at a women's health clinic. There are also "baby wearing" organizations offering support and information on this subject. It's a nice luxury to touch and try on the products. There are many work-at-home parents producing them at reasonable prices if you are looking for something unique and want to support a good cause.
Note to those of you who already use these products; if you have more than one, think carefully which one will meet your needs best when you fly. It may not necessarily be the one that you use daily. Same goes for your prettiest and/or most comfortable. I found that one that slips on and off was useful. The best carrier for travel might not be the best for your lifestyle in general.
Please note that the following reviews of carriers are specifically geared towards the parentflying with a baby, not the overall merits of these carriers in daily life.
Here is an overview of your options;
Ring Slings-I think they're ideal for flying and what I used. A good sling can also serve as a baby changer, sun shade, a breastfeeding cover-up and a blanket. They're easy to take off and on. Some have padding along the sides which makes them easier on bigger babies and toddlers (doesn't cut into their legs) but makes the sling more bulky. Unpadded slings fit well into backpacks but some padded slings can still be pretty compact. Some parents don't like the one-shoulder carry but it's possible to shift to the other shoulder. There is also a definite learning curve so you need to be comfortable with its use before traveling. I could slide a sleeping child easily between a car seat, stroller and bassinet, leaving it behind as a blanket.
Examples (just for the photos, there are many other brands!)
Please note that there was recent controvery surrounding the use of "bag" slings. Mine was made of one piece of material, which I was able to pull and better position my babies. The slings involved with the warning were of a very different design with just a strap over the shoulder and the baby is held in a sort of bag. Not only is this type of sling uncomfortable for the parent but potientially dangerous for the baby. Avoid buying this type of sling;
Pouches-Similar to slings but instead of rings, they are basically just tubes. Similar advantages to a ring sling and they are also one-shouldered. The fit is very important. Some are adjustable and others sized to order. The "look" appeals to some more than a sling and some parents feel that they are slightly easier to "master".
Wraps-I loved my wrap and found it more comfortable to wear than the ring sling but I didn't use mine for flying. It was more complicated to remove and put on. Wraps are simple, just a long piece of material but there's definitely a learning curve so it's not the product to buy two days before you fly. If this is what you are used to using and you want to take it on a flight, by all means do so, but be really comfortable with it before approaching any aircraft.
Front packs (like a Bjorn or "Snugli")-These are dire and I see far too many parents wearing their children this way. They tend to be expensive and heavily marketed. The problem is that the child is held in one rigid position (facing forward or backwards), basically hanging by its crotch. The weight pulls on the parents' shoulders making these carriers very uncomfortable quickly. They often have many fiddly straps, snaps and buttons, making transferring the child into a car seat, stroller or bassinet very difficult. Breastfeeding is virtually impossible in this and when it can be managed, isn't very discreet. I had one of these with my first child and it was in the closet by the time my son was six months old. I wish I had been warned what a poor value they were!
Some of the newer, more expensive, Bjorn designs mimick those of the products described below and therefore are more comfortable.
Mei Tai's, Ergo, Becco and other carriers with straps- These are much more logical options to front packs. They look similar but the way they hold the child is entirely different and much more comfortable. Most last until at least age two and can carry a baby on the parents' back (who can hold up his or her head). Babies can sleep in them and they can be used for breastfeeding. I have no direct experience but I get plenty of recommendations and positive reports from other parents who have used them for flying.
I should also add that if you don't have a carrier for an older baby or toddler but you do have a sewing machine, you can actually put together a Mei Tai in very little time. It's also easy to get the hang of, if you are flying very soon.
Baby Backpacks-I'm talking about hiking-style backpacks with metal frames. If you have a older baby or toddler, are not flying very far and need the backpack at your destination, this might be a practical option. They are difficult to put on and take-off so they are mainly for the airport and not the flight itself. The child can't sleep in them very well and when not in use, they tend to be bulky and hard to put away. Using it on board could also avoid checking it as luggage, since it is a delicate, easy to damage item.
I did opt for this once when flying to London in summer, where I used it instead of a stroller. I recommend removing the sunshade and packing it in your checked bags. It's much easier to have the kind that can stand on their its on the ground, than those you have to balance on your knee while putting it on, like what I had. Some even have wheels and the option of being pulled. This could then be used occasionally instead of stroller.
Just as a reminder, if your child is flying in your lap, never have him or her attached to you in any way. They are safer loose in your lap. Many of these carriers easily detach from the back. As a Flight Attendant, I simply had the parent lean slightly forward and I was able to unhook or unsnap the carrier. With a sling, I could simply loosen it and flip the back part over the head. It's not necessary to completely remove a carrier from around the baby but simply to make sure it's not attaching the baby to the parent during those two phases of the flight. For an emergency evacuation, you would not need it and it could complicate a quick exit.
This is covered in the security section but sometimes you can wear your baby through the security check, sometimes they will ask you to remove him or her. I personally found that the younger the baby, and whether or not s/he was sleeping were factors!
Here's some information more for those of us flying with slightly older children.
Before leaving home, make sure anything electonical is fully charged. It's rare that these items can be recharged onboard, although this is possible on the ground while waiting for a connection. If you are flying internationally, make sure you have a converter for whatever type of plug is at not only your destination but also any layover locations. For example, if you are going from Europe to Australia and stopping in U.S., make sure you bring the plug converter for both North America and Australia. These are small, not very expensive items and you may be very grateful you don't have a sad-faced child staring at you, unable to play his favorite game because you couldn't recharge his gadget while you were on the ground. You usually don't need a transformer even if they electrical current is different.
Portable DVD players are popular for all ages. Because they are expensive, I'm hesitant to recommend them. I waited until my youngest was 3 1/2 before I used one for the first time. I imagined my children fighting over it, dropping it, spilling drinks on it, etc. I honestly don't think they're necessary for any flight three hours or less.
Very young children aren't good about wearing the headphones, which is the biggest hurdle. My children prefer the kind that have a stiff band over their head. You want one with an adjustableband, needless to say. Some are even marketed specifically for kids. Decide if that will make your child more willing. The small ones that stuff in the ear don't work very well with children (often called "buds"). Experiement at home to see if your child will wear the head phones for extended periods. Another option is having the child watch the imagines without sound. Even if you turn the sound down low, this will annoy neighboring passengers so make it clear this that the headphones must be used on the airplane. You may want to never play the sound out loud on your portable DVD player so that your child is not aware that the sound can be played through the speakers at all.
Another option is to use one of the smaller devices like an iPod or iPad. The plus is that you don't have to drag along a bunch of CD's. Download movies directly but sometimes the children's selections are limited (apt to change). No speaker option on them so the child must wear headphones (please correct me if this is not the case with some but those I've used/seen). The other drawbacks are the battery life and if you have more than one child, it's difficult for them both to see the small screen. The solution might be to get another one!
Be sure to check the volume from time to time. Some doctors object to very little children wearing earphones at all. I wont debate this but their complaint is the noise level, since the background noise in an aircraft cabin is already pretty significant. Just make sure your child isn't blasting his or her eardrums out.
A portable computer can serve the same purpose. It's heavier than a DVD player and you may have conflict if the adult wants to work on something while their child is clammering for Barney. The battery life too, isn't usually good on them but check your equipment before deciding either/or to bring.
If flying with a toddler, and still shopping for a DVD player, look for a feature that folds the controls away from fiddly fingers so that they only can see the screen. For long flights, get one with a good battery life, at least 5 hours. In the store, they explained to me that it was possible to order a second battery so that they could be exchanged when the first one runs out. You may need to order a second battery ahead of time since this may not be an item they stock (and have to order from the manufacterer). You can also look into this option if you already have a DVD player with a short life. Either way, learn to turn the light down to save battery time (ours' calls it "night mode") and don't be surprised if the battery doesn't last as long as it's supposed to, just like car mileage...
I bring a brand new video they have never seen before. This once backfired when it turned out to be too scary for my youngest so try to go for a sure winner, and not make my mistake.
Our DVD player has plugs for only two headphones so I had to buy an adapter allowing a third (although it's rare all three watch together, especially if the film is scaring the little one!). Check how many plugs you have and even if it's unlikely all your children will watch at once, be prepared for an older child to watch a "baby" video simply out of boredom. Plug adapters are not expensive, lightweight and easy to lose. I highly advise having at least two "splitters" and at least one extra headphone if you are flying with multiple children (including any companions on the same flight). The headphones the airlines for their inflight entertainment use are usually incompatable with personal electronical products. The headphones easily drop to the floor where little feet can crush them. Be ready to whip out another one!
Before leaving, we talk about the fact that while we're watching the video, we try not to laugh out loud or to poke the other and make comments. We also don't sing along to the songs. We bring sippy cups so that there are no "open" drinks sitting on wobbly tray tables next to the portable DVD player. A sports bottle can work if sippy cups are no longer used by your offspring. All rules are discussed before each and every flight. I don't assume they remember every rule for each journey.
For international travel, a portable DVD player or computer is a good idea if you are going somewhere that the DVD's are "zoned" differently. They can still watch their favorites from home while away, without having to de-zone anything. If you're going somewhere with a different language, children's television options may be limited and they can still watch their DVD's instead. You may want to explain that they have to watch their DVD's from home only on the machine you brought and not on your hosts'(or hotel's) DVD player. They're also useful for the car, if you have any long road journeys planned while away. Pack the lighter recharger in your checked bags if that's the case.
Remember too, that anything with a remote control wont be allowed onboard. Any remote for the DVD player is simply not necessary stuffed in a small airplane seat. Those robots, cyber dogs and dinasaurs are delicate, and checking them is probably not a good idea. My son wasn't the only one with one tucked under his arm in the airport once. The remotes were all in the checked bags. Many have of these toys have a switch which makes them move automatically. Not as fun as having the remote but they still were able to play with it onboard (once the seatbelt sign is off). Just please don't turn it on if it barks or roars.
If your child asks why all electronical products have to be turned off for take-off and landing, here is a simple explanation. The only problematic electronical items are actually those which draw in outside signals. Originally, when I started flying, we were told to look out for these specific products. Well, all electronic items became more and more sophisticated and complex, taking on more and more tasks. Most Flight Attendants do not have Master's degrees in electronical engineering and basically, we didn't have time to analysize each and every product the passengers bring on board. Basically, simply for practical reasons, it's just simplier to ban all items during take-off and landing. Assure them that it's not for very long and no arguing with the Flight Attendants, who are just doing their jobs!
If your child has a cell phone, double check that this is shut off or in "airplane mode". This allows all applications which don't use an "outside" signal. Your child may want to play games, listen to music or use other applications that are permitted on board. Know their product and what you need to do with it, unless your child is willing to just keep it off the whole time.
For gameboys, DS machines and other electronical games, make sure your children shut them off to save battery life when not being used and again, that it's clear that they are to be played silently, or with headphones onboard. Leave the really small electronical toys which don't have the option to turn off the sound and changing batteries is problematic. So many electronic gizmos out there, take a look and see if something will intrigue your little person, if you have no practical or moral objections to them.
Come up with a system for keeping the games themselves safe, as well as the electrical product itself. These small game chips can be expensive and easy to lose on an airplane. Either you the parent keep them and/or put them in plastic cases when not in use, etc. Whatever procedure you can manage, depending on the age of your child(ren).
Decide what you need to do to keep things safe. Perhaps you keep them, or don't allow them out unless the child is seated, or at all until on the aircraft, etc. Come up with a plan, based on your child's age and level of cooperation, that works for you.
Check seat pockets yourself before leaving the aircraft or oversee your children while they do it. This is a good routine to do while landing. Apparently putting personal items in the pockets is no longer allowed for landing. As one Purser on Southwest announced, "Make sure you have all your electonical items or the next time you see them may be on Ebay!"
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Posted by Sharon at 12:54 AM